The costume designer Antoinette Messam explains how historical figures informed the looks of Regina King, Idris Elba and Lakeith Stanfield in the new western

Researching outfits for the Netflix western The Harder They Fall, the costume designer Antoinette Messam got a history lesson in the process. The film’s story is fictional, but it draws on the real-life black cowboys of the west, including Nat Love, Bill Pickett, Rufus Buck and characters such as Stagecoach Mary, who delivered mail across the US, protecting it from bandits with a shotgun. It is now thought that one in four cowboys were black, but this reality has been whitewashed from history.

“I literally had to buy this book, The Black West,” says Messam. It contained images of these people for her to pore over. “They all had their own individual style,” she says. “So, when it came to my cast, it was really, really important that I differentiate everyone so they’re not a cookie-cutter, stereotypical cowboy, you know?”

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